This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Lichdom: Battlemage.
Oh for fuck's sake, why didn't they just call it Battlemage? That's a really fucking good title: punchy, memorable, gets the point across. I'd call my dog Battlemage. Fuck it, I'd call my kid Battlemage - the playground beatings would be very character-building. Best of all, you feel like you can say it in conversation without having to prise the words through your teeth like a stubborn Werther's Original. The same cannot be said of the actual title, Lichdom: Battlemage, and whether or not "Lichdom" is a real word, it rolls off the tongue like a mouthful of socket wrenches.
I'm so sick of the endless colon-ization of new games that feel like they're too special to make do with one title! It's so mind-bogglingly self-important it makes me want to spit! So from now on, I'm going to pronounce colons as dry-heaves. Did you hear that, Beyond (HRUUH) Two Souls? Murdered (HRUUH) Soul Suspect?
Are we to take it that Lichdom (HRUUH) Battlemage is merely the first installment of an ongoing Lichdom series, not necessarily about battlemagery? Should we look forward to "Lichdom (HRUUH) Dishwasher," and "Lichdom (HRUUH) Tax Accountant?" No, of course we fucking shouldn't, because it's a game about battlemaging and essentially nothing else! I'm pretty sure there aren't even liches in it!
The setting is "Pseudo-Medieval Fantasy World Populated Inexplicably by Americans #5,792" - oh, I take it back, clearly we needed two titles to carry the weight of all this sterling creativity! Our story starts with a literal mustache-twirling villain walking into your house, weeing on your carpet and licking all the door knobs and then walking out while everyone laughs at your stupid, sad face, whereupon a mysterious man in a hood grants you the power to shoot fire out of your hands and tells you to go nuts. I suppose if you're making a fantasy game, there's no "fantasy" like "power fantasy'.
You can't say the villains aren't effectively hateable, but in a rather low-effort way. It's like making a picture of a baby harp seal look cute. Anyway, this all kicks off a rather linear, first-person, dungeon crawler-y sort of thing as you rampage across the land, picking off the occasional named villain in between setting fire to entire gangbangs worth of minions.
The stated intention of Battlemage - yeah, I'm just gonna call it that, deal with it - is to have a game about a mage who can get shit done, unhampered by mana-pools or spell cooldowns, who can meet an army of skeletons head-on and fucking wreck shit up, and doesn't have to hide behind his warrior friend who looks like he got his muscle growth inspiration from Akira. An agenda I can fully support, but while we are unhampered by mana-pools, another hamper gets dropped on us right off the bat with "spellcrafting" written along the side.
How it works is: you pause the game and do a series of little mathematical equations in which you multiply "element" by "delivery system" and divide it by the square root of "control, mastery or destruction" and then you sit with your chin on your fist inspecting all the little numbers that appear on screen in teeny-weeny eyestrain font to see if they're not bigger than the numbers on the spell you're already using. Then you can go back to throwing fireballs at the skeletons if that's really what's so important to you. All of which is kind of dumped on you with very little tutorializing, and it did take me a while to figure out that only one of the three directions a spell can take was actually doing what I wanted, that is, replace the numbers on the enemy health counters with slightly smaller ones.
Mind you, being poorly explained is the kind of problem that is only a problem once, and it didn't take that long for me to craft a gameplay style that worked for me, using bottlenecking and ice traps to freeze enemies in place while I blinked around throwing out fireballs like the clinic next door to the nursing school throws out morning-after pills. But there's still an awkwardness to the controls, such as having to hold down two buttons for a second to do an area-of-effect spell, and if you don't hold them down for long enough, then it fizzles out like a stiffy in the presence of Tony Abbott. So the combat has trouble getting a decent flow going, even if you didn't have to stop every now and again to do your fucking maths homework.
What became an annoyance later was that I didn't realize that Mr. Battlemage had a limited inventory for... I'm not even sure what they are - Yu-Gi-Oh cards? - that you craft into spells. So several hours in, I was told I couldn't pick up any more until I'd gotten rid of a few, except Mr. Battlemage is also a hoarder, apparently, because there doesn't seem to be any way to discard Yu-Gi-Oh cards except by combining them into stronger ones, and almost none of the combinations were better than the Yu-Gi-Oh cards I was picking up from random drops.
So as well as having to stop to do maths homework to make sure my spells were optimized, I was now having to rearrange my luggage as well, just so I can keep picking up new stuff to optimize spells with, and that's a dangerous thing to suddenly drop on someone who's already kind of bored of the game. There's a thousand momentary satisfactions to be had in the weighty thunk of missiles getting acquainted with charging enemies, and the environments are rather pretty, but it's so much wallpaper when gameplay consists just of linear paths broken up by combat, and after the intro, all story is brought across by having a support character show up at checkpoints and tell you about a bunch of cool things that happened off-screen.
At one point, she was all like, "Hey, those undead the cultists summoned have turned against them," so there'd be some dead cultists lying around in the next few arenas. And then a bit later, she popped up and said, "Never mind, they're all pals again now. They had a party, just over the next hill where you couldn't see. Shame you missed it, everyone had their tits out." Look, am I actually part of this story or am I the fucking janitor?
By that point, I was bored enough to be skipping all the optional combat arenas, and the savepoints got far enough apart that the game became too obnoxious to recommend. Maybe check it out if you're the kind of person for whom combining abstract concepts into limitless combinations of very small numbers holds endless appeal.
What is it with indie games and crafting, anyway? Seems like half the bloody Greenlight pages and fucking Kickstarter videos have got "crafting" front and centre on the projected feature list, just above "roguelike elements" and "zombies". But surely every game has crafting depending on how you define it. Many of them, for example, involve crafting "bullet" with "man" to create "dead man", and Battlemage crafts "crafting system" with "action fantasy" to create "Bored Yahtzee"!
- A master of time and space: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- You just can't compete with wizards in the singles bar, they just hold out a hand and light the cigarette of every lovely in the fucking place
- Mind you, third base becomes a risky endeavour